A Deadline Whizzes By and Indian Health Money Is Left Behind

Monday was a key deadline for the Affordable Care Act. In order to begin insurance coverage on January 1, 2014, people were supposed to sign up by December 23, 2013, for that shiny new policy.

(On Monday the White House announced the deadline is extended a stay. That’s a good thing for people trying to navigate the web site at the last minute.)

How many American Indians and Alaska Natives signed up for this new program? Who knows? But you’d think that something this important would have so much information posted about it that it would almost be annoying. There should be posters, flyers, signup fairs, reminders and banners. This should be a big deal.

Instead this deadline whizzed by, hardly making a sound in Indian country.

But this is why the deadline – and health insurance matters. From this point forward every American Indian and Alaska Native who signs up for some form of insurance, through a tribe or an employer, via Medicaid, or through these new Marketplace Exchanges, adds real money to the Indian health system.

How much funding? Healthcare reform expert Ed Fox estimates the total could exceed $2 billion. But what makes that $2 billion even more important is that it does not need to be appropriated by Congress.

Most of that funding stream will come from the expansion of Medicaid, the primary mechanism for expanding coverage under the Affordable Care Act. This is a particularly thorny problem for Indian country because only about half of the states with significant American Indian and Alaska Native populations have expanded Medicaid. That’s why it so important for Indian country to keep pressing for this critical funding source.

But even without the Medicaid expansion, many in Indian country are eligible for special considerations through the Marketplace exchanges. Most people won’t have to pay out-of-pocket costs like deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance depending on income. And American Indians and Alaska Natives have a sort of permanent open enrollment period, so the signup can occur anytime.

But, as Dr. Fox writes, “Unfortunately, fewer than 10 percent of those American Indians/Alaska Natives eligible for subsidies will purchase qualified health plans, even fewer American Indians/Alaska Natives likely if they currently receive services at an IHS-funded health program.”

So the problem remains that as long as one-in-three (non-elderly) American Indians and Alaska Natives are uninsured, there will not be enough money to pay for quality healthcare.

But the Affordable Care Act is an alternative. This is the deal: The Indian health system has never been fully funded. And that is not likely to change in our lifetime. No Congress or president in the history of this country has ever presented a budget that meets the health care needs of Indian country.

But the Affordable Care Act opens up a new way of tapping money, exchanging complexity and paperwork for more money that does not have to go through Congress. Money that can go directly and automatically into the Indian health system. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nine in ten American Indians and Alaska Natives qualify for some sort of assistance to get coverage.

The Affordable Care Act’s potential revenue stream is particularly important right now because the appropriations process in Congress is so completely broken.

But. Wait! American Indians and Alaska Natives have a treaty right to health care. There is no need to do anything, right?

Then I was re-reading my tribe’s treaty with the United States, the Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868. Article 10 says: “The United States hereby agrees to furnish annually to the Indians the physician, teachers, carpenter, miller, engineer, farmer, and blacksmith, as herein contemplated, and that such appropriations shall be made, from time to time, on the estimates of the Secretary of the Interior, as will be sufficient to employ such persons.”

And there is that word: “appropriations.” The process that Congress uses to spend money; a framework that has never even once considered full funding for Indian health.

I hear from many folks who say this is all too much. Let’s repeal the law and start over. Ok, then what? Repealing the law is not going to change the dismal funding of the Indian health system. Congress cannot even agree on regular spending, let alone something like that. But for all the complications, for all the confusion about web sites and paperwork, the Affordable Care Act opens up a check book with a couple billion dollars. We can watch deadlines whiz by. Or, we can say, there it is. Take it.

Mark Trahant is the 20th Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is a journalist, speaker and Twitter poet and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. Comment on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/TrahantReports.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/12/23/deadline-whizzes-and-indian-health-money-left-behind-152843

How the Affordable Care Act Improves the Lives of American Women

By Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services

Today, we join our White House colleagues in celebrating National Breast Cancer Awareness month; and almost four weeks into the launch of the Health Insurance Marketplace, I’m reminded of the tremendous impact the Affordable Care Act has on the lives of American women.

As the President said, the law is much more than just a website – it’s affordable, quality health insurance made available to everyone.  Through the Marketplace, 18.6 million uninsured women have new opportunities for affordable, accessible coverage.  And if you’re one of the 85 percent of Americans who already have insurance, today you have stronger coverage and more choices than ever before.

Important preventive services are now available to women at no additional cost.  These include an annual well woman visit, screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer; certain contraceptive methods; smoking-cessation treatment and services; breastfeeding support and equipment; screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence; immunizations; and many more.  Thanks to the health care law, more than 47 million women have guaranteed access to preventive services without cost-sharing.

These preventive services are critical to keeping women healthy.  For example, breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women and the second leading cause of cancer death for women in the US, after lung cancer. But when breast cancer is caught early and treated, survival rates can be near 100 percent.

The Affordable Care Act also protects women’s access to quality health care. No one can be denied health insurance coverage because of a preexisting health condition, such as breast cancer, pregnancy, depression or being a victim of domestic violence.  And there are no more annual and lifetime dollar limits on coverage.

Today, health plans in the Marketplace offer a comprehensive package of ten essential health benefits, including maternity care.  An estimated 8.7 million American women currently purchasing individual insurance will gain coverage for maternity services, and most women will no longer need a referral from a primary care provider to obtain obstetrical or gynecological services.

Cost has also been a significant barrier to care for many women.  According to one study, in 2010, one third of women spent 10 percent or more of their income on premiums and out of pocket costs.  For low income women, that situation is much worse – over half of women who make $11,490 per year or less spend at least $1,149 a year on care.  But through the Marketplace 6 out of 10 uninsured individuals can get coverage for $100 or less.

This year, as in every year, women will make important decisions for themselves and their families about health care.  They can apply for coverage through the Marketplace:  Online at Health care.gov; Over the phone by calling the 24/7 customer service center (1-800-318-2596, TTY 1-855-889-4325); Working with a trained person in their local community (Find Local Help); or by submitting a paper application my mail.

The six-month enrollment period has just begun.  And unlike a sale on Black Friday, coverage will not run out; it will not get more expensive.  Sign up by December 15, 2013 for coverage starting as early as January 1, 2014. Open enrollment continues until March 31, 2014.

To read more about the how the Affordable Care Act addresses the unique needs of women, visit: http://www.hhs.gov/healthcare/facts/blog/2013/08/womens-health-needs.html


Navigators help get Native Americans insurance

Associated Press

Insurance enrollment helpers are encouraging Native Americans to sign up for coverage under the nation’s new healthcare law, saying it will help them better access X-rays, mammograms, prescription drugs and trips to specialists not covered under Indian Health Service.

American Indians are exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that people carry insurance, but the law opens up resources that for years have been limited through IHS, said Jerilyn Church, executive director of the South Dakota-based Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board.

“There’s a huge gap in access to services, so being enrolled in the marketplace is going to make a big difference in terms of accessibility to healthcare,” Church said.

The Indian Health Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides free healthcare to enrolled members of tribes, their descendants and some others as part of the government’s treaty obligations to Indian tribes dating back nearly a century.

Critics long have complained of insufficient financial support that has led to constant turnover among doctors and nurses, understaffed hospitals, sparse specialty care and long waits to see a doctor.

The Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board received $264,000 in South Dakota and $186,000 in North Dakota to assist with Native American signups on the states’ reservations and urban areas.

The new law healthcare law will especially benefit people who seek treatment at urban Indian health clinics, which collectively are funded by just 1 percent of the IHS budget, said Ashley Tuomi, executive director of the American Indian Health and Family Services clinic in Detroit.

“Our resources are extremely limited, even more so than the tribes,” Tuomi said. “What we have within our walls is what we can offer for free.”

The clinic has seen a lot of patient interest in the healthcare marketplace, but “navigators” helping with signups have had to cancel many appointments because of continued issues with the federal healthcare.gov website, Tuomi said.

The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska has received about $38,000 in federal grant funds to encourage signups for tribal members scattered in 12 counties in Nebraska, two in Iowa and one in South Dakota.

The tribe’s IHS-contracted clinic in Omaha, Neb., has a medical doctor and two nurse practitioners, but the X-rays, specialists and prescriptions that are outsourced are not covered, said Jan Henderson, the tribe’s navigator project director. “And if they don’t have insurance, they have to pay for it themselves,” she said.

Tribes across the country get some federal money for referrals, but the small pools run out quickly, Henderson said.

She views the new healthcare law as a great step for Native Americans, but the greatest challenge is educating tribal members who are weary from decades of promises of improved healthcare.

“Education is very important in this right now to get people to be open to actually hearing about it,” Henderson said. “We hear a lot of people who say they don’t need this, they don’t want this.”

Government Shutdown Frustrates Tribal Leaders

Rob Capriccioso, ICTMN

The federal government has a trust responsibility to tribes and their citizens. It is a unique relationship, which means there will be unique – and painful – consequences as a result of the government’s current shutdown, tribal leaders say.

The shutdown, which began at 12:01 a.m. on October 1, occurred because U.S. House Republicans passed several short-term continuing resolution budgets that included provisions to delay and/or defund portions of the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare. Both the Democratic Senate and White House would not agree to those provisions, which set the stage for the first federal shutdown in 17 years.

Tribal leaders, widely tired of political games surrounding the federal budget – as well as the profound impacts of ongoing sequestration – are frustrated, to say the least.

“What is just partisan game playing in Washington, D.C. is a battle for survival in Indian country where many of us barely subsist,” said Edward Thomas, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes. “Many of our 28,000 tribal citizens live at the very edge of survival and depend upon our tribe’s ability, with federal funding, to provide critical human services.

“Any interruption in federal funding, especially for a self-governance tribe like ours without gaming or other substantial economic development, means we must borrow money – from an expensive line of credit we cannot afford – to meet our payroll obligations to child welfare workers, to job trainers, to housing workers, and to natural resource subsistence protection,” Thomas said.

Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, said he was disappointed in Republican House tea party members for insisting on defunding Obamacare as part of the budget process. “’My way or the highway’ is not a way to run the federal government,” Allen said. “Tribal leaders have many frustrations with the federal government, but we try to find ways to make it work. That’s what Congress needs to be doing.”

Allen predicted that the shutdown would be “devastating” for over half of the tribes he estimates do not have gaming or other enterprises to fall back on for funding during a federal shutdown. “So many of us – the majority – of tribes are dependent on federal resources,” he said. “It’s going to be tough for the tribes.”

Dozens of tribal leaders have voiced similar concerns to officials with the Departments of the Interior, Health and Human Services, and other federal agencies that serve large amounts of American Indians, according to federal officials. The White House, heeding that concern, held a teleconference with some tribal leaders on September 30 during which administration officials blamed the House Republicans for the shutdown. Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at Interior, also sent a letter to tribal leaders explaining the department’s contingency plan.

The House’s attempt to tie a suspension of Obamacare to a budget bill is unpopular with tribal leaders, as many tend to support the law, since it includes provisions to support the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. If Republicans had their way, a new way to support that Indian health-focused part of the law would be necessary unless lawmakers agreed they no longer wanted to focus on improving Indian health via that law. Republicans will not have their way, however, as Obamacare is the crown jewel of Barack Obama’s presidency to date, and Democrats have been trying to pass universal healthcare since Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s.

The real impact on tribes will depend on how long the government is shuttered. It will stay closed until the House Republicans and Senate Democrats can agree on a plan to fund it.

Congress and the president will still be paid during the shutdown.

Public opinion to date is largely against the House Republican position, yet many tea party GOPers, over objections of more moderate Republicans, continue to favor a budget bill that ties Obamacare to it. They have made the case that Obamacare, which goes in effect October 1, is too costly, so they believe it is worth delaying. But Obamacare is intended to reduce health-care costs for individuals and the country, Democrats have countered. And even with the shutdown, Obamacare will still be implemented.

Ironically, the most recent continuing resolution that has passed both the House and Senate thus far – excluding the Obamacare portions – is good for Indian country in that it does not include provisions pushed by the White House Office of Management and Budget that would limit the federal government’s payment of contract support costs to tribes. “That’s encouraging,” Allen said, noting that the White House proposal to cap tribal contract support costs was originally included in the Senate continuing resolution, but faced with widespread tribal opposition, it was withdrawn by Senate leadership. “We have some key people who are supportive of keeping it out.”

RELATED: White House Trying to Cheat Tribes on Health Costs

Tribal advocates are widely hopeful that once a long-term budget is agreed on – however long that takes – funding for tribal contract support costs will be included without a cap, despite lingering White House opposition to paying its tribal bills.

Despite progress on the contract support cost front, the continuing resolution supported by the House, Senate and White House maintains funding for Indian country at a sequestered level, which means programs that support tribes continue to face dramatic cuts. A joint decision by Congress and the White House, first made in 2011 and carried out on March 1 of this year, allowed an across-the-board 9 percent cut to all non-exempt domestic federal programs (and a 13 percent cut for Defense accounts). This sequester has dramatically harmed Indian-focused funding, and tribal leaders across the nation have claimed it is a major violation of the trust responsibility relationship the federal government is supposed to have with American Indians, as called for in historic treaties, the U.S. Constitution and contemporary American policy.

“The tribes would rather their budgets be exempt from this stuff,” Allen said. “But the political ability for that to happen is next to nil. The new options that people are considering is pushing for two years or longer forward funding for Indian health programs and essential government services, like some programs for veterans.”

Tribal leaders have been pushing hard to get sequestration on Indian programs removed, Allen noted, but the White House has said that it is not going to protect any programs. When asked by tribal leaders if tribes could be exempted from sequestration given the Obama administration’s stated belief in federal-tribal trust responsibility, Charlie Galbraith, the Associate Director for Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House, said at a February gathering of the United South and Eastern Tribes, “That’s just not going to happen. We have the entire military machine, every lobbyist, every contractor, trying to exempt the military provision—the president is not going to cut this off piecemeal. We need a comprehensive solution that is going to address the real problem here.”

RELATED: A Miscalculation on the Sequester Has Already Harmed Indian Health

Beyond Obamacare, contract support costs and sequestration, the immediate impact of the shutdown will be on the federal workforce, and that impact will soon trickle to Indian country. Overall, approximately 800,000 non-essential government employees are expected to be furloughed.

At the U.S. Department of the Interior, 2,860 of 8,143 employees focused on Indian affairs will be laid off during this shutdown. At the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) alone, the following programs will cease, according to the DOI.gov/shutdown website: management and protection of trust assets such as lease compliance and real estate transactions; federal oversight on environmental assessments, archeological clearances, and endangered species compliance; management of oil and gas leasing and compliance; timber harvest and other natural resource management operations; tribal government related activities; payment of financial assistance to needy individuals, and to vendors providing foster care and residential care for children and adults; and disbursement of tribal funds for tribal operations including responding to tribal government request.

The situation is less dire at Interior for Indian affairs cutbacks than it had been during previous shutdowns in the 1990s, Interior officials said, because they have since implemented a forward-funding plan in the areas of education and transportation, which will keep the employees in those areas working. There is also a comparatively larger law enforcement staff that will remain on duty through the shutdown, and power and irrigation employees will be able to continue working to deliver power and water to tribal communities because their salaries are generated from collections, not appropriated funds.

Employees at the Indian Health Service (IHS), which provides direct health service to tribal citizens, will be largely unaffected by the shutdown. Under Department of Health and Service’s shutdown plan, IHS will continue to provide direct clinical health care services as well as referrals for contracted services that cannot be provided through IHS clinics. On the negative side, “IHS would be unable to provide funding to Tribes and Urban Indian health programs, and would not perform national policy development and issuance, oversight, and other functions, except those necessary to meet the immediate needs of the patients, medical staff, and medical facilities,” according to a plan released by the agency.

Chris Stearns, a Navajo lawyer with Hobbs Straus, said the current shutdown is another hit to the relationship between the federal government and tribes. “The trust responsibility, and the right to federal services, which Indian country has already paid for with its lands, will be diminished,” he said of the current situation. He should know, having worked on Capitol Hill during the government shutdowns of the mid-1990s, which saw thousands of BIA employees laid off, and lease payments to tribes and individuals delayed.

Now, like a bad dream, it’s happening all over again.

“Perhaps it might be fair, if during a shutdown, Indian tribes got to take back our lands in lieu of payments,” Stearns said.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/10/01/government-shutdown-frustrates-tribal-leaders-151517

How American Indians Benefit from the Affordable Care Act Takes Center Stage

Dr. Yvette Roubideaux
Dr. Yvette Roubideaux

Levi Rickert, Native News Network

August 28, 2013

TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN – Some 400 American Indian tribal leaders and health care professionals are meeting at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, owned by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, at the National Indian Health Board’s 30th Annual Conference.

“We are delighted to have nearly 400 tribal leaders, elders and health care colleagues engaged in the current health care reform issues that impact every single person in our families and communities. From the American Indian and Alaska Native benefits through the Affordable Care Act to the renewal of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians. It is important to be involved and informed on the policies that are improving health care services and accessibility to our tribal members,”

said NIHB Chairperson Cathy Abramson.

“We are pleased to have a number of federal agency representatives here today to provide this information, to answer our questions and to listen to our comments and concerns.”

On Tuesday, conference attendees heard from federal agencies that seek to improve health conditions in Indian country.

Indian Health Service

Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, acting director of the Indian Health Service, who provided an overview of the Affordable Care Act, leading up to the to the October 1st enrollment of the Insurance Marketplace of the Act.

“Meeting with tribes and tribal organizations, such as the NIHB, is a very important part of our agency consultation efforts and IHS’s priority to renew and strengthen our partnership with Tribes. We value our partnership with NIHB as we work together to change and improve the IHS and to eliminate health disparities in Indian country,”

Dr. Roubideaux said.

Department of Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs partnered with NIHB to host the second Native veterans’ health workshop track at this year’s conference.

“We are committed to nurturing an environment that fosters trust and provides culturally competent care for Native American veterans, including creating culturally sensitive outreach materials, incorporating traditional practices and rituals into treatment and ensuring the best possible experience when Native American veterans receive care from the VA,”

said John Garcia, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

“We at the VA are further committed to working with and for tribal leaders on a nation-to-nation basis to address the many issues being experienced by veterans and their families across Indian country.”

Health Resources and Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services

Mary Wakefield, Administrator for the Health Resources and Services Administration said that under the leadership of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, one of the top goals is to improve health equity with Indian tribes.

“We want to eliminate health disparities among American Indians and Alaska Natives. And, we believe we can do that by working toward two other goals – to strengthen the health workforce by expanding the supply of culturally competent primary health care providers in Indian country and Alaska and to improve access to quality health care and services by increasing the number of health care access points,”

Wakefield said.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, US Health and Human Services

Mirtha Beadle, Deputy Administrator for Operations with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in HHS focused her speech on behavioral health issues stating that American Indian and Alaska Natives have the highest level of substance abuse and dependence and unmet need.

“The emphasis is growing on screening and early intervention services. Evidence based practices are an important shift for behavioral health. There is an increased need to focus on bilingual populations in the US. American Indians and Alaska Natives stand to benefit substantially from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act,”

Beadle added.

Office of Personnel Management

Susan McNally, Senior Advisor in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) provided n brief overview of the health plans that OPM directs under the Affordable Care Act. OPM will work with private insurance to offer two state health plans – the Multi-State Plan and the Federal Employee Health Benefits program, which OPM has managed for nearly 40 years.

The 30th Annual Consumer Conference continues today with a keynote address from Gold Olympic Medalist Billy Mills, updates from the Tribal Leaders Diabetes Committees and the Tribal Technical Advisory Committee to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and a panel discussion on the definition of Indian in the Affordable Care Act.

IHS prepares for Affordable Care Act implementation

Source: Native American Times

On Aug. 13-15, the Indian Health Service held an Indian Health Partnerships Conference in Denver to train key health system staff on Affordable Care Act implementation requirements, including the new Health Insurance Marketplace, and the impact on the provision of health care services to American Indian and Alaska Native people.

“The theme of this conference, ‘Partnerships 2013: Accessing Health Care through the Affordable Care Act,’ exemplifies the Agency’s commitment to ensuring that we are well prepared for the future of health care and the new opportunities available to federal, tribal, and urban beneficiaries,” said Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, acting director of the IHS.

For American Indians and Alaska Natives, the ACA will help address health disparities, increase access to affordable health coverage, and invest in prevention and wellness. The ACA will offer many uninsured American Indians and Alaska Natives an opportunity to purchase quality, affordable health insurance coverage or to enroll in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program through the health insurance market. By filling out one simple application, many will learn that they qualify for financial assistance either through tax credits to purchase coverage in the market, reductions in cost-sharing that will reduce or eliminate out-of-pocket costs, or through enrollment in CHIP or Medicaid, if their state expands eligibility. Natives will also have access to enrollment periods outside the yearly open enrollment period and can continue to get services from tribal health programs, urban Indian health programs, or IHS if they enroll in a health insurance plan through the market.

Starting Oct. 1, a market will be open in every state, providing millions of Americans and small businesses with “one-stop shopping” for affordable health insurance coverage that can begin as soon as Jan. 1. The Indian Health Partnerships Conference provided an opportunity to encourage both members of tribal communities and health care professionals working with tribes to educate others about coverage opportunities.

Administration renews commitment to American Indians and Alaska Natives

Final policy makes an exemption from the shared responsibility payment available to individuals eligible for IHS services.

Source: Indian Health Service

The Affordable Care Act permanently reauthorizes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, provides new opportunities for health insurance coverage, eliminates cost sharing such as copays and deductibles, and provides special monthly enrollment periods for members of federally recognized tribes who enroll in health plans offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Today, the Obama administration issued a final rule allowing all American Indians and Alaska Natives who are eligible to receive services from an Indian health care provider to receive an exemption from the shared responsibility payment if they do not maintain minimum essential coverage under the Affordable Care Act.  Prior to development of the final rule, only a portion of the American Indian and Alaska Native population – members of federally recognized tribes – would have access to an exemption from the requirement to maintain minimum essential coverage under the law.  The final rule reflects comments and feedback received from Indian Country through rulemaking and the tribal consultation process.

“The administration is taking steps to honor our historical commitment to the rights of American Indians and Alaska Natives and ensure that individuals protected under the Indian Health Care Improvement Act benefit from the special provisions in the Affordable Care Act,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Today, we continue to fulfill our responsibility to consult and work with tribal communities.”

Today’s final rule adds a hardship exemption category for American Indians and Alaska Natives who are eligible to receive services through an Indian health care provider, such as the Indian Health Service (IHS) or tribally-operated facilities and Urban Indian clinics.

“We appreciate our tribal partners who advocated to ensure that all American Indians and Alaska Natives eligible for IHS can receive an exemption from the penalty for not having insurance coverage,” said IHS Director Dr. Yvette Roubideaux.

As a result of this final regulation, all American Indians and Alaska Natives who are eligible to receive services from an Indian health care provider will have access to an exemption from the shared responsibility payment.

The final rule is available here: https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on National Women’s Health Week

Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, HHS.gov

Starting with Mother’s Day, we celebrate National Women’s Health Week. As a nation, we honor the women in our lives – our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, cousins, friends, and colleagues – by encouraging them to make their health a priority and to take steps to live healthier, happier lives.

Women are frequently the health care decision-makers in their families. We take time off from work to drive a parent to the doctor. We hold our children’s hands while they get their vaccinations. We make the appointments for our spouses’ checkups – and then make sure they actually go. We stretch and re-work our family budgets to pay the doctor’s bills. And too often, we put our own health last.

But the truth is unless we take care of ourselves first, we cannot really take care of our families. That means we have to eat right, exercise, and get the care we need to stay healthy. Unfortunately, preventive care has not always been easily accessible or affordable for everyone, including young women.

But the health care law is helping to usher in a new day for women’s health. The Affordable Care Act is making it easier for women to take control of their own health.  For many women, preventive services like mammograms, Pap smears, birth control, and yearly well-woman visits are now available without cost sharing. The health care law improves women’s access to appropriate preventive health screenings, which can help detect diseases early, when treatment is most effective and least costly.

Starting next year, insurance companies will no longer be allowed to refuse us coverage just because we’re battling breast cancer or have another pre-existing condition – and they won’t be allowed to charge us more just because we are women.

If you’re one of the millions of women who are uninsured or who buy insurance on their own, more options are on the way because of the Affordable Care Act. Starting October 1, 2013, you will be able to visit a new Health Insurance Marketplace where you can compare and choose from a range of plans to find one that best fits your needs and budget. All of these plans must cover a package of essential health benefits, including maternity and newborn care.

To get more information about the Marketplace and to sign up for email and text updates to get ready for October, visit HealthCare.gov.

Being healthy starts with each of us taking control. So Monday on National Women’s Checkup Day, and during National Women’s Health Week, I encourage you to sit down with your doctor or health care provider and talk about what you can do to take control of your health.

There’s no better gift you can give yourself – or your loved ones.

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